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Response Management

Proposal Content Management Systems: Traditional vs. Modern

April 7, 2021

Think back to the first cell phone you had. It probably looked a little like one of these: 

This is the Nokia 3310 or, as it’s affectionately called, the Nokia “brick.” At the time, this was the peak of innovation. Everyone had to have one. But as time went on, Nokia just kept making the same phones. Actually, they’re still actively making these phones today. 

Similarly, when content management systems first came onto the market, they were the talk of the town. No more filing or digging through reams of paper just to find the right nugget of information. All of your content was finally in one spot, but it was more “organized chaos” than anything. 

Then, proposal management systems were introduced, offering a new way of content management that broke up content into Q&A pairs. It promised to be easier to search and better to manage, but really, was a repackaging of the same limitations. In other words, a new version of the Nokia brick. Instead of giving us a full 21st-century smartphone experience with our content, we were still using T9 texting.

Today, an evolved approach exists that brings more context and granularity to the way content is stored, organized, and used across revenue teams. Here are the four key differences between traditional proposal management systems and the systems available now:

What Traditional Proposal Management Systems Were:

Databases Structure: Q&A Pairs

These systems are hyperfocused on RFP response management. As a result, their databases are set up to revolve around Q&A pairs. In some platforms, users can add alternative questions or answers, but that format is the standard. 

When these systems first came on the scene, this was a big improvement from searching paper files or old-school content management databases to locate answers. 

Categorization: Keyword Tagging

The thought process behind keyword tagging starts with the beginning of the internet itself. Early websites used keyword tags as a way for creators to help users find content. Then, this practice started becoming more mainstream to index blogs and articles within a news site. 

Keyword tagging can be very effective in that context. If you have a Sports section on your blog and a “baseball” tag - users can find all the posts on baseball without creating a brand new section for baseball. 

However, proposal content often isn’t that cut and dry because sales opportunities can be complex, product offerings convoluted, and content region-specific. All these factors make the keyword database a bear to manage and defeat the purpose —if users must know exactly what they are looking for to find the right content, why have the tagging at all?

Searchability: Low

Because of the two factors above, searchability within these systems can be cumbersome. You often need to know the exact term to search, the exact tag to add, or the exact person who updated the Q&A pair. 

You basically have to be a subject matter expert in the platform to be able to use it, which leads to...

User Base: Proposal Teams & Technical Writers

With such a high barrier of entry to learn and use the platform effectively, often only the “power users” can be truly effective within it. Those power users are typically the people doing the majority of the work on sales requests — proposal teams and technical writers. 

The issue with this is that the content is then taken out of the platform and shared in a Word document with the salesperson to refine, finalize, and ultimately send to a customer or prospect. So what does that final version say? Often the answer will be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

What Modern Proposal Management Systems Are:

Database Structure: Dynamic (Documents, Sections, Responses, and Files)

With the advantage of hindsight, we know that simple Q&A databases aren’t the best way to organize content. 

The context of seeing full documents, the file attachments, and the sections that the answers are housed in all help solidify the relevance and validity of the response you’re searching for. 

Categorization: Deal-Context Tagging

On the flipside of keyword tagging is deal-context tagging. This refined tagging approach uses the opportunity and organizational data (such as region, company size, product offerings, deal size, etc.) to categorize content in ways that will change how you respond. 

For instance, you’ll likely sell differently to a 5,000-person company than a 200-person company. You may offer different service levels, offerings, or pricing depending on the company size. 

Searchability: High

With these above factors in mind, searchability does a 180. When tagging and structure provide full context during each response process (and being prioritized via a machine learning algorithm) users can find the most relevant content easier and faster. 

User Base: Entire Revenue Team

Remember when proposal management systems were a black box to everyone but the proposal team? That’s a thing of the past. 

Now, these systems are intuitive and often provide the unexpected benefit of being training tools and knowledge bases for salespeople searching for answers to any question a prospect might throw their way.

Don’t Get Left Behind.

If your current system seems more like a Nokia 3310 and less like the newest iPhone or Android, it might be time for an upgrade. 

At the end of the day, sales content (and requests like these) are a crucial asset to your business and a wealth of knowledge. Don’t let your best content be stuck in the past as nostalgia.

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